Angela Gaare opened up her wallet when a nonprofit sent an urgent request last spring for help as the COVID-19 pandemic began.
When Clare Housing asks Gaare for her usual annual donation, she’ll contribute to the Minneapolis nonprofit again, more than doubling the amount she gives this year.
“I know my expenses are less and their needs are more,” said Gaare, 59, of Minneapolis.
Minnesota nonprofits are hoping to convince more donors like her to give again as they kick off the year-end fundraisers that they rely on for revenue. Some nonprofits have feared that the influx of donations to bolster COVID-19 aid earlier this year will cannibalize year-end philanthropy, so they’re making personal pitches to donors and asking foundations and corporations to bump up their spending.
“There’s a big scare about donor fatigue,” said Maj. Scott Shelbourn of the Salvation Army’s Northern Division, which includes Minnesota and North Dakota. “We do know that donors are starting to get tapped. We certainly know that there is a lot of asks in the community for funds.”
When the pandemic first hit, donations to Minnesota nonprofits soared, reaching levels akin to the holiday season. Then, after George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police, nonprofits saw another spike in giving to boost racial justice work or respond after businesses were destroyed in the civil unrest.
But that influx of new donors and extra money that Cathy Maes saw earlier this year have waned for Loaves & Fishes, the Minneapolis nonprofit she runs that provides meals for people in need.
“Everybody wants to help in the beginning,” she said. Donations are at normal pre-pandemic levels, she added, but she’s spending more on containers and disposable utensils to shift to to-go meals instead of dining. “We’re still here and we’re still doing this work, and it’s harder than ever.”
She canceled her annual fundraiser that was slated to take place Saturday instead of hosting a virtual one.
“I think people are just Zoomed out,” Maes said.
She’s focusing on cultivating relationships with current donors, sending videos to individual donors to thank them. She’s also hoping to drum up money during Give to the Max Day in November.
“Minnesotans are generous. I’m banking on generosity at the end of the year,” she added.
In May, GiveMN, the nonprofit that hosts Give to the Max Day — the largest “giving holiday” each year in the state — held a special giving campaign for nonprofits to boost COVID relief, drawing in $5 million over eight days. On Nov. 19, GiveMN will hold its usual Give to the Max Day, which brought in a record $21.6 million last year.
But after collecting nearly $35,000 in May, Rachel Mairose at Minnetonka-based animal rescue Secondhand Hounds is uncertain donors will rally again.
“We’re a little worried about everyone who donated on that week of giving that they may not want to do that again in November,” she said.
Donations, which account for half her nonprofit’s revenue, are down $200,000 from what she budgeted this fall. She’s appealing to repeat donors and corporations after canceling her annual gala. Last year, she raised $156,000 at Give to the Max Day, holding a puppy party at a brewery. This year, a virtual event will feature videos of the rescue’s dogs and cats.
Since March, every month has drawn more donations on GiveMN’s website than at the same time in 2019, said Jake Blumberg, who heads GiveMN, adding that donations are up by more than 170% in August and September.
“People are giving more [in 2020],” he said. “Donors are paying attention. They care about the causes they support.”
At Catholic Charities, Hayley Mueller and the development staff are meeting with donors over Zoom and FaceTime and recording videos to show donors the programs that their money is supporting. Corporations and foundations have increased grants that can be spent on general operations. The boost in philanthropy, which accounts for about 40% of Catholic Charities’ revenue, has helped mitigate the organization’s rising expenses, she said.
At the Alzheimer’s Association, the Minnesota-North Dakota chapter is seeing some corporations such as Allianz Life expand philanthropy this year. The nonprofit is also relying more on high-level donors — those who give more than $10,000 — to reach into their wallet more this year, CEO Sue Spalding said.
And the Salvation Army, the Twin Cities nonprofit known for its red kettles, is pushing for online donations this year since fewer people shopping in person will likely cut donations at kettles in half.
Some nonprofits have also found creative in-person fundraisers that still maintain safe COVID guidelines.
On Wednesday, Clare Housing, a Minneapolis nonprofit that provides services and affordable housing for people who are HIV positive, will switch its annual luncheon to a drive-in fundraiser with a drag show and viewing of the movie “Rent.”
“The word of the year of 2020 is ‘pivot’ and we’ve had to really pivot and see what we can do,” said Jim Seas, director of community engagement. “The fact that Minnesotans are so philanthropic and have been so supportive has never been more evident than this year.”
Several foundations have doubled grants to Clare Housing, which will help buffer the loss of some individual donations from those who perhaps have lost a job or had furloughs, he added.
“During this unique and remarkable time, you’re never sure how it’s going to all play out,” he said.
But there are some donors who are giving more, like Gaare, a consultant at a mortgage company. She’s diverting money she would have spent on traveling overseas or eating out to the nonprofit instead.
“If I just sent them the gas money I’ve saved, that would probably be a substantial amount too,” she said. “It’s such a great cause and such a strong need.”